The 10 best hardcore songs according to Vinnie Caruana
Vinnie Caruana picks his essential hardcore playlist
In my opinion, I’ve never been in a hardcore band. Some of The Movielife stuff was definitely derived from that, but I wouldn’t call any of it hardcore. But when a kid gets into hardcore, it never leaves them. You’re always in on that kind of secret community. And when I was young, it was a secret. Nobody knew anything about it. If you would see somebody on the street with a hardcore band t-shirt on, you’d say something to them, because that’s how secretive it was – like, ‘Holy shit! You like that thing, too?! There’s only 200 people on this entire island who know what that is.’ And that always sticks with you, even as you grow and you get into other things. I was never a hardcore kid that wasn’t interested in other stuff. I was always really interested in all types of music. Hardcore was just the first music that I got into on my own. The records that I would put on would be rap, because rap was really big – I grew up a few miles away from where Public Enemy grew up, maybe 10 miles away from De La Soul and 10 miles away from A Tribe Called Quest, and that found its way into our lives really quickly. Hardcore did the exact same thing, just at a different time.
I was probably about 10 years old when I got into rap, and probably about 13 or 14 when I got into hardcore – fast, bright-sounding, not really negative and brutally heavy stuff – the whole Madball, 25 Ta Life, Vison Of Disorder thing was happening. I was a straight-edge kid for years and that was just a part of life. Being a hardcore kid in 1993 and on, that was really prevalent in the scene, and most of the people I knew were straight-edge because that was the fashion – I know it’s not really a fashion, but that was the way it was, like ‘Nobody drinks? I guess I don’t drink.’ As you grow up, you figure out your own way, but a lot of the kids my age that were going to shows were straight-edge. But we were cool with the ones that weren’t – none of us were these militant guys that tried to control anybody else’s lives. We were just straight-edge kids having fun and messing around, and doing that on Long Island and being part of the scene, that really led to a lot of us doing what we still do today. A lot of the Long Island bands that people know about and who tour around the world, a lot of us were in the crowd together singing along to all these bands that would come through...
10. CHAIN OF STRENGTH – Impact (The One Thing That Still Holds True, 1995)
This starts with a legendary intro that builds into one of the best hardcore songs of all time. This was one of the first youth crew hardcore bands that I got into. I discovered them through a Revelation Records sampler, but a lot of the older guys who were at shows when I first started going to them had Chain Of Strength shirts and you wonder what these things ate. I learned about a lot of the early hardcore bands from older kids at shows and my brothers’ friends, who’d be wearing shirts, and I’d have to figure out what it was. I wouldn’t ask them, because I didn’t want to seem uncool. Daryl [Palumbo] was always a really good source, too. He always had every single record, so when I would bring up a band, he would already have the record, so that was easy.
9. JUDGE – Fed Up (New York Crew EP, 1988)
Perhaps the angriest song ever. It also got me through my first break up. I remember being in my bedroom staring in the full-length mirror and pretending to be the singer of Judge and being really angry and getting that adrenalin going, which made me feel better about the way my life felt at the time. It’s a militant straight-edge song and obviously that didn’t apply to my break-up! But the anger of the song… I’d just sit in my room and play it over and over and over again. I finally got to seem them play for the first time last summer when The Movielife played with Judge in Atlanta, so that was really special for me. Although I was holding a beer and I’d just smoked a joint, so I felt a little weird watching Judge drunk and stoned, but it was fucking amazing – and probably better than if I was watching them as a 16 year-old straight-edge kid.
8. INK AND DAGGER – Newspaper Tragedy (Love Is Dead EP, 1996)
Love is dead. In high school, I lied to my parents and went to Washington, DC to see them. Most of their music is about being a vampire. I know that probably sounds really dumb, but it was actually really artsy, and musically they were insanely ahead of their time and really the only hardcore band that sounded that way. At that show in DC I remember there being this racist skinhead dude who was just standing in front of the singer staring him down while the show was going on. So the singer grabbed him and sung in his face and the guy just punched the singer. And then the whole crowd dispatched of this dude and he’s probably still not doing well. He’s probably not doing well at all right now. He took a real beating.
7. UNDERTOW – At Both Ends (At Both Ends, 1994)
Daryl brought this CD over to my parents’ house and he never got it back. This is the title/opening track. My parents used to go away all the time and we always used to hang out there. We were all straight-edge kids, so my parents weren’t worried about us partying and doing weird shit. This is when we were pretty young, in maybe ninth grade, and we’d find things to do. One of those things was play Manhunt, where you’d use an entire neighbourhood as a hide-and-go-seek battleground. When it was too late for Manhunt – basically when the cops would start showing up and the neighbours would get freaked out that there’s people running in their yards and stuff, we’d take it inside of my parents’ house and we’d do Manhunt and turn all the lights off and blast Undertow so you couldn’t hears anything or see anything, and you had to find opponents from the other team. I remember us playing this song on repeat for an entire game. And I know that sounds really juvenile, but that’s what we did as young straight-edge kids with nothing to do. Daryl never got the CD back. A lot of the stuff he lent me he never got back – I’ve never been good at taking care of things, so eventually he wised up and stopped lending me CDs.
6. COUNT ME OUT – Where We Started (110, 2000)
A 50-second blistering track from one of my favorite hardcore records of all time. This band was so underrated. I didn’t know anything about Count Me Out and when The Movielife showed up to record our first actual proper full-length, This Time Next Year, at Salad Days Studios with Brian McTernan, he was just finishing the mixing for 110, and I remember listening to him mixing this song and I was just like ‘What is this?!’ It reminded me a lot of Chain Of Strength, actually, and they drew those comparisons, but the singer’s voice was so nasty and so much stronger and just really, really and sincere sounding. And the whole record’s fast – there’s probably a minute on this record that isn’t fast. But we went into the studio and I had a song in mind for a guest vocalist and I didn’t know who it was going to be, so I was instantly like ‘Can I have this guy’s number?’ and so I met Jason Mazzola like ten seconds before he went into the vocal booth and sang on the first Movielife record. I actually remember he had their van but he didn’t have any license plates on the van, and he was also a nerdy hardcore kid just like we were and he was really excited about singing on a Revelation Records release because Revelation were responsible for Chain of Strength, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today, Judge – they released all of that, and he was really stoked so he jumped in the van and drove like two or three hours from Richmond without license plates and made it without getting pulled over and sang on the record.
5. FASTBREAK – 120 Bucks (Fast Cars, Fast Women, 1998)
I absolutely love this band. A very young Movielife opened for Fastbreak, Farside, Saves the Day and Kid Dynamite on Long Island. I was in heaven. It was an amazing show. Fastbreak were of the newer regime of youth crew bands who followed in the footsteps of a lot of that early Revelation stuff and Fastbreak and In My Eyes were two New England bands who were really making waves. Fastbreak always had this melodic feel to them and they ended up making a record after that on Revelation that was truly melodic and then I didn’t like it. But everything on this record is really youthful and fast but really stylish. Those guys were like the cool kids – when they showed up in their van on Long Island all the girls who were at the show were like ‘Whoah! These are cool hardcore guys!’ and all the dudes were like ‘I love these people. I love this band. These guys are so rad.’ I always sweat Fastbreak, so when we had a chance to play with them I was definitely in the crowd singing along. That whole night was me hurrying up through the Movielife set so I could sing along to everybody else.
4. BURN – Godhead (Burn EP, 1990)
I once moshed so hard to this song at a Burn show in 2001 that I'm convinced my body has never fully recovered. It was the first time I’d ever seen them and this EP on Revelation is completely legendary in New York and on Long Island and when they finally played again we went fucking crazy. It was an insane show. I remember falling backwards and hitting my tailbone on the edge of the stage and I’m convinced that nothing’s been the same. It definitely hit a nerve where I was like ‘Ooh! Something’s just changed in my body. That really hurt.’ Going to hardcore shows is probably the reason why my lower back is all dislodged and messed up. I’ve definitely abused my body and I’m totally in mosh retirement. I have been for a long time, but there’s a few bands that could possibly bring me out of it.
3. STILLSUIT – Just A Glimpse (At The Speed Of Light, 1997)
The coolest hardcore band of all time that most people outside of New York haven't heard of. I would come out of mosh retirement for them. We all looked up to them – they were the cool kids from Queens who dressed cool and were all the best musicians. They played a style of hardcore that nobody really played – the closest you could come to was probably Burn, who came before them, but they took the more progressive, interesting style of writing hardcore music and brought it to their own level. Manny [Carrero] played in Glassjaw for many, many, many years as their bass player and helped define some of Glassjaw’s sound, and Glassjaw took him from Stillsuit because they looked up to Stillsuit. Stillsuit was Glassjaw’s favourite band, so when they got him to play bass for Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence it was a really big deal for those guys.
2. MINOR THREAT – It Follows (Out Of Step, 1983)
This was the first hardcore band I ever got into. Almost every song they wrote was perfect, so I'll just choose this one. I have two older brothers, and aside from Daryl being really pivotal in showing me some of the newer stuff that was new back then and is definitely not new now, the early stuff like Minor Threat and Black Flag and then, away from hardcore, Fugazi and Faith No More and other alternative stuff, I would just go in my brother’s room when he wasn’t there and play all of his records. I’d just kind of sit there and get blown away, and then I would talk to them about it. My brothers would tell me, ‘Oh, you like Fugazi? Well, this is the same singer as Fugazi and this band was around when you were eight years old.’ And Minor Threat is literally the one where every song’s good but this is the one I probably listened to the most. They’re still the best hardcore band of all time.
1. C.R. – Longshortcut (C.R. 7”, 1996)
Epic song from the only Staten Island band I ever listened to besides Wu Tang. Although C.R. were a Staten Island band, they were an honorary Long Island band. They knew everybody on Long Island and made friends with all the Long Island bands – and this is before I was in a band, so I’m talking about the older kids and their bands. They played a lot. In their Discography compilation there’s a big centerfold photo inside of the record and you’ll see me as like a 15 year-old in the middle of the dance floor with a shaved head. These guys were a super spazzy and heavy hardcore band and it was always really heavy subject matter – Longshortcut is about a young girl on her way home and never making it home amd being a victim of violence. It’s a really intense song and it comes to one of the sickest mosh parts that ever existed back then. C.R. wasn’t one of my favourite bands but that was always one of my favourite songs.
Vinnie Caruana's album Survivor's Guilt is out now through Big Scary Monsters.
Vinnie was speaking to Mischa Pearlman.